Iceberg Model: Using Motivation to Enhance Performance


Iceberg Model: Using Motivation to Enhance Performance

Many organizations seek effective methods to assemble and motivate their staffing as well as create a harmonious workplace environment. In particular, Organizational Development Consultants and Industrial Organizational Psychologists are given the task of offering organizations intervention strategies to advance and increase organizational effectiveness.

Therefore, to manage an organization effectively, a consultant must view it as a machine to repair what is fixable and examine any underlining assumptions in an effort to get an accurate outcome. For example, the Iceberg Model can be used to describe and diagnose many interventions for organizations such as individual behavior, systems thinking, motivation and drivers, and performance enhancement.

The Iceberg Model derives from Sigmund Freud’s early work in psychology where only 10% of the ice (psyche) is above water and the remaining 90% (mental nature) exist beneath the surface. In other words, an individual’s competencies (skills/knowledge) are visible while attitudes, traits, self-image, and motives are hidden beneath the surface.

These motivation drivers make the difference in how work is done and in this manner explains the impact of employees’ performance in the workplace. As a result, what is visible to the organization is behavior, below is what actually drives behavior and can make the difference in the overall success of the organization.

Different Motivators Produce Different Results  

Motivation is defined as the influence that explains arousal, selection, direction, and continuation of behavior (Aamodt, 2012). Many factors determine whether employees will be motivated or not. To begin, after an employee is hired and trained for a position, motivation drives the employee to do the job efficiently and strive for the highest performance level.

Latham and Pinder (2005) developed a basis of relevant theories that affect organizations’ motivation and levels of productivity in the workplace. Rubin (2002) suggests SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals to achieve success in job performance and job satisfaction. Additionally, to expand the success of motivating employees, an incentive such as providing feedback on goal attainment and performance levels will increase performance.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators are identified to examine an employee’s highest commitment and performance to the organization. Extrinsic motivators can be seen as “above the surface of the iceberg” such as money & perks, status, praise which results in employees checking into work, following procedures and completing work duties. On the other hand, intrinsic motivators are “below the surface of the iceberg” in which employees are acknowledged, develop relationships, have feelings of belonging, purpose, and resulting in employees maintaining trust, innovation, commitment, and loyalty within the organization. Although, these different motivators will produce different results, the challenge exists in engaging employees with intrinsic motivators. For this reason, extrinsic motivators are measurable, tangible and support leadership within the organization. However, this only appeases the surface value of an employee but does not capture the true essence of an employee which is underneath the surface.

Three Keys to Developing Intrinsic Motivation

Since intrinsic motivators are found underneath the surface (or under the waterline of the iceberg) and not easily seen or recognized, there are methods to effectively develop these motivators. Here are three keys to developing intrinsic motivation:

  1. Employee involvement. Allow employees to contribute their ideas, make decisions, and perform all their tasks with responsibility and interest. Employees will make every effort to improve their performance with effectiveness and efficient outcomes. For example, they can develop products and services that are extremely essential to the organization since their worth to the organization is relatively necessary to the organization’s growth. When employees are involved in the organization, they feel psychological ownership, or feeling of responsibility to make decisions in the interest of the company (Avey, Avolio, Crossley, & Luthans, 2009). Psychological ownership leads to employees being empowered to create, shape, and take decisions to make his job duties. Thus, when employees are empowered, their level of commitment in the organization will increase.
  1. Build relationships. Belonging and having relationships is the most essential intrinsic motivator. As humans, we are wired to connect and belong with others. However, many senior leaders and employees do not have time to interact with each other. With the lack of time available to connect with peers at work, will result in isolation and the void of belonging. So to increase this intrinsic motivator, take a minute to have a meaningful conversation or lunch outing with a colleague. Make time to connect with people outside the team and business department.
  1. Work with purpose. Why are you working for your organization? Does their mission and vision align with your purpose? If there is no convincing answer to these questions, employees will not fully commit or care for the organization. For this reason, working with purpose will create loyal employees who believe in the mission, goals and visions of the organization.

Developing core motivator drivers such as extrinsic and intrinsic will create a stable organizational culture.


Aamodt, M.G. (2012). Industrial/organizational psychology. An applied approach. (5th ed). Belmont, CA:     Wadsworth.

Avey, J.B., Avolio B., Crossley C., Luthans, F. (2009). Psychological ownership: Theoretical extensions, measurement, and relation to work outcomes. Journal of Organizational       Behavior, 30, 173-191.

Latham, G.P. &  Pinder, C.C. (2005). Work motivation theory and research at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 485-516.

Rubin, R.S. (2002). Will the real SMART goals please stand up? The Industrial-Organizational                 Psychologist, 39 (4), 26-27.

About the Author: Valamere S. Mikler is the founder and principal consultant of V.S.M. Professional Services, a consulting firm providing organizational efficiency and administrative office management services. Valamere holds a Master of Arts Degree in Human Services with a specialization in Business Management from Liberty University, and she is currently pursuing her PhD in Organizational Psychology from Walden University.  She can be reached at

Additional information: The Institute of Organization Development offers Certification Programs. To learn more about our Certification Programs, please click on the link below:


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